The burning of good will

The Burning of Goodwill

Recently I asked three friends of mine to critique the latest draft of a script. The project is on a production schedule, and so I needed comments by the end of that week. The week ended. The next week started. I still had nothing from two of my friends. So, while at work, I sent them a quick text message.

One told me she wouldn’t be reading it. The other told me to leave her alone.

I teased and bantered back but my feelings were hurt. This particular friend had read a previous draft. We were reasonably good friends. And yet, this time it felt like she couldn’t be bothered.

The second exchange came from a college junior buried under schoolwork and internship responsibilities. This was understandable, but still annoying.

It is easy, and quite tempting, to complain about both of these friends. But people do and don’t do things for a reason. I am sure they still make the world a better place, even if they chose to flake this one time. What I did not realize, though, is that I had burned through their good will. They had already done me a favor, and agreed to do me another favor. When I came back asking about it, I had turned from a friend into a pain in the ass.

Robert McKee writes in his book STORY that writers best reveal character by placing people under high stress situations. The harder the choice one must make, the more revealing that choice becomes. 

In my experience, the best way to learn who your true friends are is to ask for help. And committing to a creative project, goal, or career requires a massive amount of help. 

But this is also where a sense of entitlement can creep in. We creatives have needs, and the cruel, cruel world just doesn’t care!

But that’s life.

Creative people are needy people. We need help all the time. A lot of help. Often more than we have actually earned. Almost always more than we can realistically expect.

So, unfortunately, as you embark on any serious creative endeavor, you will find plenty of superficial interest, noncommittal encouragement, and shallow offers of help. And you will repeatedly find people who make promises and agree to do favors, but do not come through for you. 

These people are not evil. They are not sabotaging you. And they actually do want you to succeed. 

To you, these people will be useless, because to them, you’re coming off a little bit crazy. 

The only people you can rely on to actually help you, with no complaints, are those who truly believe in you, and those who will profit from your endeavor. Faith and cash are the only two things that truly motivate. Not friendship. Not promises. Not even love. 

Faith and cash. 

These are two things you must earn.

But even when you do, you are bending the world to your will. You are upsetting the normal balance of the universe. You are making sacrifices and asking others to sacrifice. Creativity in action creates debts. Financial. Spiritual. Familial. Personal. By the time your project is complete, you may feel like you are standing in the center of a large crater. Some of these debts you will be able to repay. 

And some you will not. 

And in this way, your creation will permanently alter your life. It will probably make you stronger. It will probably make you more perceptive. It will probably create incredible friendships and romances. 

But it can also strain and destroy others. 

Because creativity is both a hard choice to make and a hard choice to support. And the more often you make that choice, the more often the world will strip away its pleasantries and reveal itself as it truly is. 

And that truth will always surprise you.